It hasn't been a good week for Lake Erie. The Ohio legislature just passed, and Governor John Kasich is about to sign, House Bill 231, which was supposed to bring the state into compliance with the federal law known as the Great Lakes Compact. But some say the law will do exactly the opposite and two former Ohio governors, both republicans, spoke out against the bill, saying it could harm Lake Erie by allowing companies to draw too much water from the lake without any oversight.
The bill would require a permit only if the operator in question drew more than 5 million gallons of water a day from the lake, more than 2 million from rivers or groundwater, or more than 300,000 from designated "high quality streams." It would give Ohio the dubious distinction of have the most generous water-use regulation of any state in the compact.
Former Governor George Voinovich said the bill prevents the state's natural resources department from using scientific standards to determine if increased water usage has a harmful impact. He urged lawmakers to add protections "to ensure that this resource is available for future generations." Lawmakers ignored him. After all, future generations don't fund the next election, do they?
Sam Speck, a former Republican state legislator who also headed up the Ohio Department of Natural Resources from 1999 to 2006, said the changes would give Ohio "the weakest water supply protection of all of the Great Lakes states." In a letter to Senate members, Speck named at least six areas in which the Ohio law would violate the compact.
The bill's primary sponsor, Republican Lynn Wachtmann, accused those who raised concerns about damage to Lake Erie of "fear mongering." Wachtmann owns a water bottling company and sits on the board of Culligan.
There was time in this state when, on critical issues like this, when it really counted, politics would get left at the door and the good of the state was all that mattered. Sanity ultimately prevailed.
But that was then, this is now. Now it's about doing the most for your friends who helped get you elected.
Sanity has left the building.